TV & Radio
'Democratizing' classics: La Folle Journee au Japon director hopes to bring classical music to everyone
Kumi Matsumaru / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
(Apr. 13, 2006)
Rene Martin says he is pleased to see that an upcoming annual Tokyo event he launched last year to familiarize the public with classical music has already begun to put down roots, especially as he himself did not know the splendor of such music until he encountered the work of Bartok at the age of 16.
La Folle Journee au Japon, which means "Exciting Days in Japan," will be held from May 3 to 6 at the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho, Tokyo. It is the Japan version of an annual classical music festival Martin has organized since 1995 in Nantes, France, with the aim of bringing classical music to everyone by offering concerts at reasonable prices.
During the Tokyo event, most concerts will last for about 45 minutes and will be priced at about 1,500 yen each. A total of 200 concerts, including 57 free ones, are expected to be held.
According to the event organizer, 110,000 tickets have already been sold as of April 11, although 60,000 more tickets still are available. "We are now worried about whether we can provide enough seats for visitors," the French music producer and artistic director of the event said in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The 2006 theme of the event is "Mozart et ses Amis" (Mozart and his Friends) as this year marks the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. Last year, the festival's inaugural version took Beethoven as its theme, selling more than 116,000 tickets for 120 paid concerts during three days.
'Revelation,' thanks to U2
Martin said he came up with the idea to found the unique project when he went to a concert of the rock group U2.
"In 1993, I went to a U2 concert and found 35,000 people were there, enjoying the music," Martin said. "I realized, although I had done many music festivals [over the previous] 15 years by then, I was not able to draw such a number."
To attract people to classics, Martin thought, the most important factor would be ridding such concerts of their elitist image. "It led me to come up with the concept of La Folle Journee--cutting prices and playing times. I also found it was necessary to provide concerts where children can enjoy classics along with adults."
Martin said the idea struck him like a "revelation" as a way to "modernize classics."
"Every one of us is made to enjoy artistic expression, and that is triggered by artistic works themselves," he said.
While introducing novel ideas, however, Martin sticks to a very basic policy--providing quality performances. "Thus I always need to gain the support of artists to lower their fees to make less expensive tickets possible," he said.
His idea seems to have struck gold. Back in Nantes, the festival drew 120,000 people in 2004, about 60 percent of whom said in response to a questionnaire that they had never been to a classical concert before. The Tokyo version drew 130,000 visitors, including 17,000 children, last year.
Martin said working in Japan has given him a new experience, making his works in France even more productive. "Holding an event in a city with a population of 13 million required a new approach," he said. "The experience in Tokyo may also be useful for things I may do seven or eight years later."
The classical music events pro confided he was not interested in classics until he was "awakened" when he was 16.
"I grew up just like an ordinary boy, listening to rock music. I used to play percussion in jazz and rock bands," said Martin, whose favorite group is Pink Floyd. "By the time I became 16, I had gotten into jazz bassist Charles Mingus, who later died of cancer. One day I read his biography, which says Mingus thought he finally found what he had been looking for throughout his life when listening to the radio in his hospital bed. And the music was a piece of Bartok."
A classical 'awakening'
Strongly moved by this story, the young Martin hurried to a shop the following day and bought a "whole collection of Bartok albums."
"It was the moment of awakening. Deeply moved by the music, I bought Beethoven's whole collection the next day."
This classical "awakening" led Martin to enter the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Nantes two years later. "I took all classes about musical theory. I wanted to learn everything about music as quickly as possible," said Martin, who studied business administration afterward.
The Nantes festival is now considered one of Europe's major classical music festivals, and a huge source of publicity for the city. La Folle Journee has also been held in Lisbon since 2000, and Bilbao, Spain, since 2002.
Martin said he was determined to establish a fourth one in Tokyo. "Why? It is because of the importance of culture in Japan," he said.
"Japan is one of the countries with the deepest understanding in Western music. The reaction of the audience, for example, is just the same as that in Vienna or Paris," Martin said.
Speaking of this year's theme composer, Martin said the way Mozart contains emotions in his music is applicable to Japanese culture.
"When expressing emotions, Mozart does so in a sort of modest tone. When he cries [in his music], he does not do so with big drops of tears," Martin said. "In his piano concerto, for example, you can find sorrow and other emotions expressed elegantly. But [subtlety] doesn't mean the expression is weak. In that respect, I find Japanese people share the same attitude."
According to Martin, there is no plan at the moment to expand La Folle Journee to other parts of the world, although it may spread to other cities in Japan in the form of smaller projects.
Martin, who loves Japanese films and literature--he boasts a video collection including complete DVD sets of films by legendary Japanese directors Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa--says he hopes to work in the future with young filmmakers in Japan.
"I recently watched the film Nobody Knows [directed by Hirokazu Koreeda]. It would be interesting to work with people like him to make a film on the [Folle Journee] event from a different viewpoint."
Along with the concerts, there will be a number of related events around the time La Folle Journee au Japon is held. They include an exhibition of a Mozart expert's collection of manuscripts and a number of side concerts to be held at nearby facilities.
"I believe the event will work like a theme park of classical music where even people who have never been to classical concerts will enjoy the music in a casual manner," Martin said. "Through La Folle Journee au Japon, I wanted to share with thousands of people the experience I had when I was 16."
Next year, the event is expected to be held with the theme of ethnic harmony.
La Folle Journee au Japon events will be held May 3-6 at the Tokyo International Forumin Yurakucho, Tokyo, (03) 5221-9100.
More musical events, just slightly offstage
Kumi Matsumaru / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Concerts, exhibitions and various other projects tied in with La Folle Journee au Japon will be held in Yurakucho, Tokyo, and the nearby areas of Otemachi, Marunouchi and Ginza from April 29 to May 6 to contribute to the festive mood of the May 3-6 classical music festival at the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho.
One of the events will be an exhibition of historical artifacts related to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the composer whose work is the theme of this year's festival. From May 3 to 7, the collection, including Mozart's musical notes, his portrait and other items, will be shown on the seventh floor of the Marunouchi Building.
A women's choir, most of whose members are office workers in Marunouchi, will sing Mozart numbers under the baton of Hikaru Ebihara at the Marunouchi Oazo building May 3-4.
Photographer Akira Kinoshita, known for his portraits of musicians, will exhibit his works at Wako Hall, on the sixth floor of the Wako building in Ginza, under the title Dear Maestros. The works will include a photograph of Leonard Bernstein, bearing his autograph.
At Tokyo International Forum, Mozart-related films--Amadeus and Trollflojten--will be shown May 3-6, free for anyone with a ticket to an official La Folle Journee au Japan event.
Such ticket holders also can enjoy a free concert to be held all day long during the same period in the forum's exhibition hall. Various workshops designed for children also will be open to ticket holders during the period.
In the plaza in front of the forum building, food stalls will sell dishes from around the world, while showing ongoing performances from the exhibition hall on a gigantic screen.
Visitors will be able to buy Mozart-related products, including those imported from Vienna and Salzburg, in Exhibition Room A at the forum building.
For those coming from outside Tokyo to enjoy the event while staying in the city, the Imperial Hotel, the Palace Hotel and Hotel Okura are offering special accommodation plans that come with concert tickets.
To support the festive mood gastronomically, special menus will be offered by various bars and restaurants in the Marunouchi area from April 29 to May 6.
Music lovers with a sweet tooth will be especially glad to know that Wako Tea Salon at the Wako annex building in Ginza and the Chianti confectionery in Marunouchi will serve desserts specially created for the event from April 29 to May 6.
In Marunouchi, domestic and international street performers will compete at showing off their skills on April 29, while the streets will be decorated with flowers arranged in containers until May 7.